Anant Mahadevan’s Gour Hari Dastaan, based on a screenplay by journalist CP Surendran, traces the struggle of a retired government employee to prove that he was a freedom fighter. Gour Hari Das (Vinay Pathak) wants the government to recognise his contribution to the independence movement not because he needs the pension that comes with the stamp of officialdom. As he tells Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi when the leader appears to him in a dream, Das wants the truth to be known.

Das’s wife, Lakshmi (Konkona Sen Sharma), is tolerant of her husband’s obsession, but his son Alok flees in disgust to the US. Nobody is interested in Das, except journalist Rajiv (Ranvir Shorey), who sees the old man as the emblem of the kind of story the media should be focusing on. Das warms to Rajiv, a standard-issue choleric type whose face has never encountered a shaving blade and whose scathing view of humanity masks intense idealism.

The movie does not dwell too much on the soul-destroying encounters between Das and the bureaucracy. This war has been waged on the screen before, and everybody knows its contours. Rather, Gour Hari Dastaan appears to suggest that freedom has different meanings for contemporary Indians, especially in a country as corrupt, insensitive and chaotic as ours.  The 111-minute film follows a cross-section of characters apart from Das, each of whom has his or her own share of obstacles and headaches.

However, the screenplay is too episodic, unfocused and underdeveloped to make this complex point convincingly. Surendran’s conversational dialogue aims for a wry, worldly-wise quality and purports to deliver profound commentary on the media, politics, and the state of the nation. The approach is scattershot, at best. For instance, Rajiv is a proud misogynist, whose views on feminists (he thinks they should all be shot) only serve to needle any woman who might watch this movie.

Mahadevan packs the story with interesting faces and actors – Saurabh Shukla, Vikram Gokhale and Tannishtha Chatterjee apart from Pathak, Shorey and Sen Sharma – and gets cinematographer Alphonse Roy to give the film a documentary sheen. But the movie lacks energy and a sense of drama. While the understated and naturalistic acting is a relief from the usual ostentation, Gour Hari Dastaan is sluggishly paced, and fails to convey the monumentality of  the protagonist's mission.

More thought has been expended on Rajiv’s asides on the commercialisation of the media and the aforementioned castrating feminists than on injecting narrative momentum into Das’s journey. In any case, his battle is half-won when he gains access to top officials. There is little left thereafter for Das – or the movie  – to prove.